“Mining on the Mountain” is dedicated to preserving the history of the coal mining communities on the Cumberland Plateau of White County Tennessee . The website is owned and maintained by the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society which is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization. The Society operates a museum of coal mining history and artifacts in the Bon Air community known as the DeRossett Railroad Section House Museum. It also owns and maintains a park and walking trail at the Ravenscroft Mine site.
History Builds Community and School Pride
The study of the history of the coal mining industry on the Cumberland Plateau of eastern White County during the late 1800s and the early 1900s was begun in 1994 when the administrative staff and teachers at BonDeCroft Elementary School under the leadership of Dr. Sue Carmichael who was the school principal at that time, applied for a grant from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association which was matched by a grant from the Volunteer Electric Cooperative for a total of $500.
The study included the mountain communities of Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Eastland, Clifty and the railroad town of DeRossett. The purpose of the study was to demonstrate to the students the importance of the coal industry in the history of the local community through learning activities such as interviewing, school-wide field trips to the primary mining sites, inviting coal miners to speak with students, and student projects pertaining to the coal mining history.
A copy of a research paper that was on file at the White County public library became the textbook for the study. The paper was titled “Mining on the Mountain; Life in the Coal Towns of White County, Tennessee, 1882 – 1936”. It was written by White County resident, Betty Huehls, who did the research while working on her Masters Degree at Tennessee Tech University.
The $500 grant received from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Volunteer Electric Cooperative was used to make copies of photos owned by members of the community and also of slides collected by Mrs. Huehls as part of the research she conducted while doing research for her master’s thesis. Video taped interviews with members of the mining community were also made. The first school field trip to the Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Clifty, and Eastland communities was done in the Spring of 1995.
The project expanded in May, 1995 when the idea of inviting people who had worked in the mines to attend a "Coal Miners Reunion" at BonDeCroft School. Coal mining artifacts were displayed, a slide presentation of the early 1900's was shown and student projects were displayed. Interviews with coal miners and members of the families of coal miners were also recorded.
In the fall of 1995, Betty Huehls gave BonDeCroft School the copyright privileges to the text of "Mining on the Mountain.” A $3000 donation by a private individual from White County was used for the first printing of 500 copies of “Mining on the Mountain; Life in the Coal Towns of White County, Tennessee, 1882 – 1936.” The money made from the sale of books was reinvested in continuing the work to educate about and preserve the history of the mining communities.
The 2nd Coal Miners Reunion took place in May 1996. Students in the 5th and 6th grades at BonDeCroft Elementary School wrote and performed a play about the life of Earl Webb who began playing baseball on one of the coal mining community teams. He would later play professional baseball with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox teams. The daughter of Earl Webb attended the coal miners' reunion to see the play presented by the students. Earl Webb continues to hold the major league world record for most doubles in a season with the Boston Red Sox!
Requests for copies of slides and photos increased following the second Coal Miners' Reunion. In order to fulfill the demand, a book of photos was assembles and printed. The publication titled “Mountain Coal, Black Gold; A Visual Journey through the Coal Fields of Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Clifty and Eastland, TN 1882 – 1936” was presented for sale at the third annual Coal Miner’s Reunion in 1997.
Community Events and White County School System Field Trips
BonDeCroft Elementary School annual field trips to the Bon Air Mountain Communities
Annual Coal Miners Day / Bon Air History Fair. The history fair celebrated its 23rd year in May 2017.
Annual White County 5th grade field trip to the Bon Air Coal mining communities
Honors and Awards
Volunteer Electric Cooperative Magazine – May/June 1995
Tennessee Education Association Magazine – November 1995
Presentation to Tennessee school principals and supervisors for the Tennessee Department of Education - Fall 1996
Tennessee Historic Commission Award for historic preservation – May 1997
Tennessee School Boards Association Award and article in TSBA Journal for Excellence in Education – March 1998
Caney Fork Electric’s “Tennessee Magazine” interview with Kenneth Welch – February 2000
Ongoing Preservation Projects
BonAir Historical Society formed as a nonprofit 501(c)3 nonprofit organization
Publication of the Bon Air Mountain Times newsletter by the Bon Air Historical Society continued as a biannual publication.
Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Section House (DeRossett Railroad Section House) was restored and converted for use as the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society Museum.
Ravenscroft mine site and the DeRossett Railroad Section House were added to the National Register of Historical Places
A walking trail and park was constructed at Ravenscroft Mine Site with funding provided by the TN Department of Environment and Conservation, Parks and Recreation Division.
Ongoing preservation efforts funded by grants from Volunteer Electric Cooperative and Middle Tennessee Natural Gas
Site improvements at the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society Museum completed with funding provided by a grant for $147,588 from the TN Department of Transportation in 2017.